The performance of maths, science and literacy is a disaster careering towards a catastrophe and we do little more than wring our hands. I recently read an article on the economist indicating that South African education is one of the worst in the world. I was disturbed to find out that in 2007 some maths teachers with over 10 years' experience sat in the tests similar to those taken by their class. Only 21% managed to get the results above the level expected for the pupils.
In 2015 South Africa also finished close to last (137 out of 139 countries) when looking at the overall quality of its education system. I cannot conclude that there is a correlation between the shortfalls mentioned above, but I believe there is. In countries that do well in Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) comparisons, teaching is valued. In Finland, to be a teacher is to be in a prestigious job and competition for teacher training courses is intense. Most teachers have higher degrees in that country.
There is also a constant search for improvement, even in the countries that are doing well. Canada is a good PISA performer and the model that South Africa can aspire to. Even there, however, the latest comparisons which revealed a drop in Maths performance provoked a debate about whether new methods of teaching have done more harm than good.
The teachers must involve the pupils in setting their own learning goals by offering them meaningful choices that are aligned with learning objectives.
There is no reason we cannot do better through teaching excellence. The current situation in which many schools have difficulties in recruiting, especially in maths and physics, should be attended to as a matter of urgency. To this day I cannot take out the shock that my physical science teacher did not know anything on the subject except that H2S smells like rotten eggs. We had to teach ourselves the whole syllabus.
This generation is labelled lazy, and on the other hand the pupils are blaming the teachers for not doing sufficient work. I am for the idea that pupils are 100% responsible for their own learning with the full assistance of the teachers. The teachers must involve the pupils in setting their own learning goals by offering them meaningful choices that are aligned with learning objectives.
We do not want to increase psychological problems in the young, but we must instil in them the need to work towards a satisfying and sustainable future. Teachers are important in achieving this objective. We need teachers with a clear idea of what it is they want the students to know and be able to do. They have to be able to think about how they are best going to get the children to get to grip with the ideas.
Teaching is key and we need great teachers to save us from mediocrity. At the top end of the scale this means attracting more people including talented switchers from other careers into teaching. There are talks that most teachers want to quit the profession in the next few years. If among those, are the mediocre and the time servers who blight with the lives of the pupils, so be it. If teaching as a career becomes as competitive as engineering, economics and scientific careers we will win definitely win this war.